Do You Really Have to Preheat Your Oven or Skillet?

Should you preheat your oven or skillet? Or...can you get away with skipping that step?

Who hasn’t been tempted to skip the preheating and go straight to baking? You probably want your sheet pan suppers done ASAP! We’re all pressed for time, and preheating takes, well, an extra 15 minutes or so.

Here’s what you need to know—and when you might be able to skip the warm-up.

The Science Behind Preheating

Should you preheat your oven or skillet? Lots of chemical reactions occur when you cook, and almost all depend on the temperature. For example:

  • The “Maillard reaction”: This refers to the process that causes food to turn golden brown. It can only happen at temperatures above 300°, so if you’re looking for a nice, brown sear on a piece of beef or chicken before you start cooking it through, you’ll need to preheat your skillet.
  • Leavening: Leavening agents (like yeast and baking powder) rise when exposed suddenly to high temperatures, which can’t happen in an oven that starts cold.

Ultimately, the question of whether or not to preheat comes down to what you’re cooking—and what you want to accomplish!

Should You Preheat Your Oven or Skillet?

Here’s our starter guide on when and why you should preheat (and when it’s OK to skip):

  • Searing meat: Preheat your skillet.
  • Roasting meat: Preheat the oven for even cooking.
  • Casseroles: Preheating is optional (unless your recipe includes eggs). Here’s the best casserole recipe from every state!
  • Pasta: Preheat the water.
  • Eggs: Preheat the pan before frying or scrambling. Preheat the water before poaching. For more on how to cook eggs, here’s your go-to guide.
  • Toasting nuts: Preheat your skillet.
  • Toasting spices: Preheat your skillet and remove from the heat almost immediately.
  • Making a pizza: Preheat your oven, and ideally, your baking surface / pizza stone. (This will help the pizza crust get brown and crispy while the toppings cook.) Looking for practice? Here are dozens of pizza picks to whip up at home.
  • Baking bread, cookies, cake or anything that needs to rise: Preheat your oven or skillet (in the case of pancakes).
  • Roasting vegetables: Preheat your oven (which allows the outside surface to caramelize before the insides cook through).
  • Sautéeing vegetables: Preheat your skillet (as with roasting, this permits the Maillard effect to occur before the vegetables cook through).
  • Sautéeing garlic: Start with a cold skillet (to keep the garlic soft and moist).
  • Sautéeing mushrooms: Start with a cold skillet (to keep them soft and moist); start with a preheated skillet to get them caramelized.
  • Steaming vegetables: Preheating the water is optional. For more on steaming vegetables, here’s our handy how-to.
In a Rush? Here's What's for Dinner
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Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly in The Huffington Post as well as a variety of other publications since 2008 on such topics as life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. She is also a writer of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.